It not every day that a team can come into the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship and have such a popular following in a very short space of time.
However, Bert Taylor’s BTC Norlin Racing squad have managed to do this and score some impressive results since the teams return last year. Here is how I have seen the modern version of a fairy tale re-entry into the BTCC for the team…
The History Lesson…
BTC Racing was no stranger to the series, having competed during two stints (2006-2008 & 2014), having seen limited success using the different cars of the Lexus IS and the SEAT Toledo and then running the NGTC Hatchback version of the Chevrolet Cruze, the team took some time out from the championship.
During the off season in 2016, Taylor made the announcement that his squad had secured two TBL’s and would be re-entering the BTCC with the NGTC Chevrolet Cruze’s run by Power Maxed racing previously.
Later on during the build up to the 2017 season, Chris Smiley and Dave Newsham were confirmed as the drivers for the teams comeback.
With Smiley having suffered a poor season in 2016 racing for the Team HARD outfit, scoring a best position of 16th at Thruxton in what was uncompetitive car, the Northern Irish driver left after Croft that year and was soon snapped up by Taylor.
Retaining Newsham in the team was also a master stroke with the BTCC race winner having a lot of experience in the Chevrolet Cruze during his time at Power Maxed Racing. The scene was set for what looked to be a better first season returning back in the BTCC.
Bert Taylor sums up the emotions he felt about returning to the series:
“It was a dream come true, our lottery ticket had landed and it was a fantastic feeling to be back in the BTCC again!”
The 2017 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship: Newsham to the Front
The season started quietly for the team as they bedded in the “Stealth Bomber” looking Chevy’s and began to learn about the cars, however Newsham gave an early showing of the cars promise in round six at Donington Park.
During extremely wet conditions, Newsham guided the Cruze into the lead and stayed there for several laps before giving best to cars on a better setup around him.
However, the Scotsman would come home in fourth place and take the team’s first top five finish of the year. Knockhill added more silverware as Newsham was the winning Independent driver in the days second race where he finished in seventh place overall.
Rockingham was a good weekend for Chris Smiley, who having gotten to grips with the car during the season and taking a lot of guidance from Newsham, secured his first two top ten finishes of the season with tenth place in race two and then ninth place in race three.
Silverstone where the team made its mark and really showed the promise that was waiting in the wings. With the National circuit offering its normal fast spectacle of racing and difficult overtaking chances, Newsham guided the Chevy to take the team’s first overall podium of the year in third place in race three.
With the team having signed off their first year back with silverware, the off season for the buildup to 2018 would be crucial to maintaining their momentum.
With a lot of Silverware from the teams first season back, Bert Taylor explained how he felt about the teams achievements during the 2017 season:
“The season was a game of two half’s. The first half was Tried hard, second half was just what we needed.”
“Donington in the wet was where Dave almost put us on the podium and in the 2nd half of the season both drivers got us into the top ten on a regular basis and Dave got 3rd overall at Silverstone!”
The 2018 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship: The Young Guns Fly!
Over the offseason, BTC Norlin confirmed that they had purchased the two ex-Team Dynamics/Works Honda Civics for the new season and that they had kept Smiley on board for a second consecutive year.
Adding to the line-up was experienced BTCC and TCR International Series driver James Nash, making his return to the BTCC after seven years away. With the competitiveness of the Honda’s already well known and two talented drivers signed up, 2018 was looking good already.
Once again Brands Hatch was a learning curve for the team, however Donington Park once again delivered. Josh Cook took pole position in differing conditions, but Smiley was there on the front row only three hundredths of a second behind. The scene was set. Could the team take its second podium in the BTCC or could Chris take that elusive win?
The answer was a second podium, however the achievement was immense. Chris delivered a great result for the team and gave notice that once again the “Stealth Bomber” Honda’s were ready to challenge at the front with the rest of the big-name teams and drivers. The elation for both Smiley, the Team and Taylor was evident on TV.
With a podium taken with a brand new car for the team, Taylor explained the emotions of seeing Smiley take his first podium in the series:
“Its a feeling I’ll never forget for both of us I’ve always known Chris had the capability!”
“He delivered that day from 7th place in the second race and it was fantastic feeling after a front row start on the hard tyres in race one.”
Thruxton was a good weekend for the team again as the Hampshire circuit saw Smiley take three top ten finishes, however it would be all change for Oulton Park. With Nash deciding to leave the series, Taylor scored a popular signing in getting the current TCR UK Championship leader Dan Lloyd in the second seat.
With Lloyd carrying late entry ballast in Oulton Park, it was always going to be a difficult debut for the Huddersfield driver. 22nd on the grid for race one, Lloyd made his way up to 18th at the end of race two. With both driver 17th and 18th for race three, a possible top ten was on the cards, however a start-line accident wrecked both cars there and then.
Croft Race Three: That’s the way to do it!
With so much potential being shown by the team since they returned to the series last year, there was a point when the question was asked:
“They have the cars, they have the talented drivers… Where’s the first win coming???”
One common theme during the first half of the 2018 season was that the BTC Norlin Honda’s were getting noticed by the ITV Pundits for their speed and reliability in races and once Lloyd joined the team, the talk moved to when that first win would happen and either Lloyd or Smiley would take it.
With Dan Lloyd picked for pole position for race three at Croft, the dream suddenly seemed to become a reality. Lloyd made a great start off the line and was never headed after the first lap.
Whilst many fans have said about how much of a dominating force Lloyd had been in TCR UK (Where he has the best car and the best team at his disposal), it was great to see the Yorkshire driver lead from the front and control the race in a different series.
Lloyd duly took the win by just under five seconds and secured his first win in the BTCC as well as giving the team their first BTCC win. A proper double whammy and a great way to head into the Sumer Break.
With that elusive first race win finally taken, Taylor explains his emotions of seeing Lloyd take his first BTCC win:
“Dan just fitted into the team, it really felt like he’d been with us for ages and what a result he delivered after siting in the car for 5 races! WOW!”
“The win in race three at Croft was absolutely incredible for the whole team after both cars suffered from so much damage from the start-line accident that took place in the final race of the day at Oulton Park.”
The remaining second half of the season got underway at Snetterton in the last weekend of July with another fine opportunity of Pole Positions and race wins presented as the series celebrates its 60th Anniversary with the “Double Diamond” Race:
A ballast free, no holds barred, double points scoring race?
It sounds like another chance to add a new chapter to that Fairy tale…
(To bring this up to date, both drivers enjoyed a positive meeting with Smiley taking fifth place in race two as his highest finish of the weekend whilst Lloyd took two ninth place finishes in the first and third races repsectively.)
Despite this being a BTCC Post, I will be keeping things up to date with the blog as well as with the members of the The Official TCR Talk Group & The TCR UK Fans Group who will also be sharing their thoughts as well as any news from FIA WTCR, The TCR Europe Series, Domestic & Regional TCR Series and any news on the TCR UK Series which started this year.
All images are used courtesy of Jakob Ebrey Photography / BTCC.net
Until next time, all the best!